Yakuza 2's story takes place a year after the events of Yakuza 1. For those who didn't have a chance to play Yakuza 1, don't worry there is a very thorough, and optional, movie that goes through every bit of the Yakuza 1 story. Our hero, the heroic, thoughtful, yet incredible badass Kiryu Kazuma is once again put into an ordeal where he is brought back into the yakuza life. As in the case with most mafia stories, the life will always suck you back in. The story goes through such perfect pacing with the final act giving a huge payoff that it's easily up there with other great video game stories.
Like before, Yakuza 2 makes use of a beat 'em up RPG style gameplay. Kiryu will either be forced into fights or come across random fights while wandering the streets. In these fights, there will be a certain number of opponents to fight, and Kiryu must use are variety of moves to dispose of the bad guys. The attack buttons are the typical weak attack and strong attack requiring you to mix it up. There's also a throw button that will let you do a simple judo throw, a grab that leads to a few punches or kick, and finally, something new, Kiryu can grab hold of the opponent on the ground then throw them over his shoulder. Overall, the combat is improved quite a bit over Yakuza 1. It just flows better overall making for a more natural fighting, but there are occasions when camera angles can cause some problems, but this is totally dependent on where the fight is taking place.
When fighting, there is a Heat gauge that will begin to fill when attacking and blocking attacks. Once pass a certain point, Kiryu will have access to a slew of powerful attacks that will vary from depending on a various factors such as Kiryu having a weapon, if the enemy is on the ground, if Kiryu has a hold of the enemy and near a wall or pole, or another new addition is if Kiryu has an enemy near certain environment object such as a display of food that will Kiryu will body slam the guy into. In boss fights, when the boss is nearly dead, there will be a chance to raise the Heat gauge just by pressing triangle leading to special Heat move specifically for that boss leading to a dramatic climax.
Now I did call the game a RPG and it is a RPG in every sense of the word. So if you're one of those dicks that try to fit a RPG in a certain category don't try and debate this. Each opponent you defeat gives you xp, quests will give xp, and hell even eating certain foods will give some xp. When the xp bar reaches a certain amount, a variety of unlockables will be accessible. These powerups include increase to the life bar, Heat gauge, more moves/combos, better defense, and other abilities that can help in a fight like being able to get up quicker.
Questing in Yakuza 2 reminds me a lot like Western RPGs such as Oblivion and Fallout 3. While exploring the two cities, many people will be seeking aid from our yakuza with the golden heart. These sidequests range from the traditional beat some guys up for me to the very, very strange. There's even a quest that involves a certain videotape and a ghost acting as a tribute to the Ring series. In Yakuza 1, most notably the game had a dating sim element added to it. Kiryu can visit several hostess bars where a hostess, a girl that's paid to drink with you, can be swooned with the right answers and gifts. Yakuza 2 goes even further with this game letting you run one of these bars requiring you to be in charge of the "talent," and then Kiryu himself does some hosting duties. That's right; our terrifying yakuza becomes just another gigolo showing ladies a good time for the right amount of money. These sidequests are a much lighthearted break from the very serious storyline of the game.
Since this a PS2 game that was made so late in the PS2 life, it's safe to say that it pushes the hardware to provide some great looking graphics. There are some very great looking shots of the city that can be seen, but in the end, Yakuza 2 does not do anything that hasn't been seen before. So we'll just keep it that the game looks great for a PS2 game, and that's all that matters.
For the sequel Sega of America did not go through the process of getting American voice actors, but instead opted to keep the Japanese voice actors and adding English subtitles. Whoever did this should get a raise because not only does it save money for Sega, but it also provides some of the finest voice acting Japan has to offer? I don't want to sound like I hate dubbed games because some are done very well especially when you get some quality voice actors and some good Hollywood actors. The problem with dubbing games is that the majority of voice actors used is not actual actors. Similar to dubbing anime, some voice actors are people that are around the office or people working on the project. For Japan, this game is a huge game that needs the finest actors. In comparison, here in the US, it's not nearly as big of deal especially with it being on the PS2 so late in its life. The voice acting is incredible for each actor, and is as good as anything done by American actors this year. My only gripe is that the translation seems a bit off. There was an overuse of the word "ya" when it clearly makes more sense if you use "you" instead.
The music went from you're traditional score, very heavy on the riffs guitar, some beautiful sounding vocals and then some groovy 70s Japanese music. At least I think it was from the 70s. The best way I can describe it is a Japanese version of a Tom Jones with a funky band backing him up. Whether it was from the 70s or not, it plays so perfectly in some of the scenes late in the game reminding me of that end of the battle between the Bride and O-ren Ishii in Kill Bill Vol. 1. There's a great piece called "A Scattered Moment" that plays during the final fight giving the battle a more epic feel.
People may debate on whether the game is a RPG, but time wise, it's just like a RPG. On a speed run, you can maybe get through the game in 20 hours. Average would put it around 25 but you can easily double that if you do everything available to completion. Not only that, but there is some replay value. In the tradition of other RPGs, Yakuza 2 has a New Game Plus mode. So you can run through the game a second time with a much tougher Kiryu since all the stats and abilities carry over to this new game.
Sadly, Yakuza 2 will be overlooked being that it was released on the PS2. While still not the absolute best game of 2008, this game should be on the list of contenders for the best game. However, it will not receive the recognition it deserves. It goes on the list of other great games that received not nearly the recognition that it deserves.
Michael Abbott at Brainygamer.com wrote a great article of why the game is so good:
Games usually contain weak narratives because their stories are tacked onto pre-existing gameplay structures. Yakuza 2 conveys the impression that the opposite approach was adopted here. The brawling is fun and well-implemented with plenty of special combos and tough bosses to keep the beat-em-up gamer happy. The sandbox elements work well too, highly reminiscent of Shenmue's atmospheric rendition of Yokosuka's shops and restaurants, with mini-game opportunities throughout.
But all these features have been woven around the true centerpiece of Yakuza 2: its narrative. The utterly regressive, unrelentingly linear, cutscene-driven, genre-derivative story that I swallowed hook, line, and sinker. The one I was genuinely sad to see end.